One of gaming’s greatest tragedies is how few RPGs existed for the Nintendo 64. On its own, this might not be so tragic, but when one considers just how many RPGs existed for its predecessor (the SNES)… yeah, it’s truly lugubrious. It was natural, then, for some companies to try and fill in this void by creating RPGs of their own. “Who knows? Maybe we’ll create the next Final Fantasy 7!”
Enter Quest 64. (Also known as Eltale Monsters in Japan. Also known as Holy Magic Century in Europe.)
Quest 64, from what I’ve noticed, is a game which tends to elicit strong reactions from people. You either belong to the “this game sucks more dick than an overworked hooker” camp or the “this game is so criminally underrated, nobody understands how great it is!” camp. With few exceptions, there’s no middle ground. I myself am one of the people who really likes the game, but I can also certainly see where the other side’s coming from; Quest 64 truly is a bad game, and I don’t think it’s very helpful to pretend otherwise. Why is it such a bad game though?
Well, consider all the conventions you’d typically find in a well-crafted RPG: cool characters, an expansive world, an immersive story, a money system, an equipment system, a skill progression system… stuff like that, right? Quest 64 has none of this. The game was too
ahead of behind its times to do that. Instead of a full party of characters, you’re stuck with one. Instead of rich worldbuilding, you get the hollow Celtland as your backdrop, with no real story to speak of. Instead of a money system, NPCs simply give you stuff for free. Instead of equipment… you get nothing. There’s actually a little bit of skill progression in the form of leveling your spells, but it’s simplistic and it’s ridiculously unbalanced (more on that later). Despite being made in 1998, Quest 64 actually plays more like an 80s RPG, like Dragon Quest – only Dragon Quest was made in, you know… the 80s, so it has an excuse for being primitive. In other words, Dragon Quest was a good game for its time. Quest 64 was not.
Personally, I love the combat system in Quest 64 (pictured above). What you have is a turn-based RPG where battles take place on the world map itself (i.e. like Chrono Trigger), rather than go into separate battle scenes like you’d see in other games (i.e. like Final Fantasy). There’s an emphasis on movement here: each spell you cast has a limited range, and many of them only work if you fine-tune your positioning. Meanwhile, on the enemy turns, you’ll have to move around the battlefield to avoid their hits. If you’re adroit enough, then you’ll elude most of what the enemy throws at you. It’s really a neat system which equally rewards strategic micropositioning and on-your-feet reflexes. Because of the battle system, I jokingly refer to the game as a “SRPG,” even if it’s not really one. (But hey, games like Ogre Battle, Dragon Force, and Valkyria Chronicles aren’t really SRPGs either, yet some people unironically refer to them as “SRPGs. If those games are SRPGs, then so is Quest 64. Deal with it.)
Anyway, it’s a neat battle system in theory.
But when the rubber meets the road, a lot of Quest 64’s inner workings begin to quickly fall apart. Many spells that the enemies cast are simply unavoidable, no matter what you do. Meanwhile, most of the spells you cast are completely pointless, like Homing Arrow. There’s absolutely zero reason to use spells like Homing Arrow, Hot Steam, or Rolling Rock. No – none of it matters one bit when Avalanche exists. And if the earth element (which grants you access to Avalanche) weren’t already strong enough, then it also gives you Magic Barrier, a spell which can nullify damage completely. Similarly, the water element is by far the best way to keep yourself healed, so it’s considered essential to most players. Speedruns focus solely on earth and water to the exclusion of the other two elements. Let me say this: if Avatar The Last Airbender took place in the Quest 64 universe, then there’s no way the Fire Nation would’ve won a single battle! Seriously, did the developers for Quest 64 have an earth fetish or something?
…Don’t answer that. I don’t want to know if that’s a real thing.
Quest 64 had some really interesting mechanics on paper, but unfortunately they failed to live up to their potential due to lackluster execution. If the game were balanced better and had a greater variety of spells, the battle system could’ve been great.
Even outside of battles, the game is very disappointing, as mentioned earlier. The best word to describe the game would be hollow. Pictured above, you’ll see one of several dozen empty rooms throughout the game. There are so many dead ends in Quest 64 that just do not need to be there. They’re about as useful as nipples on men. NPCs don’t tell you anything useful. The story is paper-thin. Music in Quest 64 is equally uninspired.
Despite all of this, I inexplicably find myself coming back to this game from time to time. It’s not even nostalgia either; I didn’t first beat this game until my college years. There’s just something infectious about the battle system that, even if it’s not executed well, still has enough to offer to provide for a somewhat enjoyable experience. Quest 64 is most definitely a bad game, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t enjoy it. There’s a time and place for “guilty pleasure” games.
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying bad games. This little truism is perhaps the most important lesson that Quest 64 can teach us.
Console: Nintendo 64 (duh)
My video review
RPG Classics Shrine’s Quest 64 page, including walkthrough, all spirit locations, and more